Curating the Bookshelves 3: What to Do with Them

Okay. With agonizing labor you’ve winnowed out a ton of books from your vast library. What on earth are you going to do with them, these boxes and boxes of outgoing volumes? The soul revolts, at paper recycling. No, it is inherently evil to destroy books, we can agree. Let’s think of something better.

Clearly the ideal is to find a home for that book with someone who really wants it. And, if you really want an item, you’re willing to pay cold hard cash for it, right? So: pop over to your nearest used book store, and see if you can sell them. Used bookstores get their stock from people like us. If you can persuade Powells to take everything, you’re home free even if they pay you in store credit. Think of this as exchanging books you don’t want for (fewer, okay? Many, many fewer) books that you do.

But perhaps you have no accommodating used bookstore near you. An allied possibility then is selling books on line. I was able to deaccession thousands of comic books on Ebay. It does take time to list items, and some setup with Paypal and so forth. But the first place I’d go, if I was looking for something difficult like say a hardback 20th century edition leather-bound of KING SOLOMON’S MINES with a tipped-in reproduction of the treasure map, is either Ebay or AbeBooks. (I have one already, thanks, and you will pry it from my cold dead hands.) Someone may be out there right now searching for the book you just dropped into the discard pile. The big used-book selling sites are where they’ll look.

After a tour in the marketplace, however, you will find that some books just don’t move. There are too many Readers Digest Condensed volumes out there. The number of paperback copies of A WRINKLE IN TIME is vast. Even offering them on Ebay at one cent gets you no action. Okay, then it’s time to move on to giving them away. Gillian Polack has posted about her magical basket by the front door, but there are many other ways.

If you have a large and active SF club near you, ask them if they’d like donations to their library. Ask your own public library — they may accept donations to the collection, or simply have a book sale twice a year to help keep the lights on. Conventions have taken to setting up freebie tables, where items just fly out the door. It’s worth asking your local schools, but accept that due to age or educational pressures they may not be able to use your books in their library. The universities who have a research collection of F&SF, the University of Kansas and the University of Iowa, might be interested.

When these avenues have been plumbed, then resort to charities. There’s probably a Goodwill or AmVets in your town. If a charity or hospital you support has a resale store nearby, they may be happy to take your donation — check first. And you even get a tax deduction for it! Online yard sales happen on Facebook or NextDoor — free books always garner interest. Churches or other organizations do book sales as fundraisers. In my area the American Association of University Women has a massive sale every autumn that’s a magnet for book mavens. There are even charities like the Maryland Book Bank, specifically dedicated to accepting books to then be given away to the needy.

littlefreelibraryAnd finally, consider the Little Free Library system. The one in the picture stands on a suburban curb in Alexandria Virginia, and was erected by writer Catherine Petrini. There are little boxes like this all over the US, each stocked with free books. You could go to the map on the link and find all the ones in your area. The idea is to give a book and take a book. Children love these places, so cute and friendly. This is the venue, I promise you, for that forlorn Scholastic paperback of A WRINKLE IN TIME. No, you do not have to take a book! But if you do, take fewer than you leave. Remember, the goal is to lessen the load on your bookshelves, not increase it.

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Curating the Bookshelves 3: What to Do with Them — 10 Comments

  1. I’ve taken 40 banker boxes of books to the Goodwill from my brother’s estate. A dealer took 10 boxes and paid for them. A friend took 15 boxes to Powell’s as mentioned above. The left overs went to another new/used bookstore in town. another 2000 books went to a dealer’s table at the local convention. (14 boxes went in, 5 came out). We started at $1 a book. By Sunday morning it was $1 a plastic shopping bag full. Some of those bags were very, very, very full. The books that came home went directly to Goodwill the next day. Then I discovered another 6 boxes in the mess at the house. I have no idea what to do with them. I’m out of energy.

  2. Sadly, it’s a continual battle. Books just seem to appear in my life, and if I ever hope to shut my doors or see out my windows I have to prune them back.

  3. Problem is, I have too many books that are Powell rejects and my local bookstore and charity shops are overwhelmed (we are a literary small town, after all). Plus I have some old mass market paperbacks that are falling apart…sigh.

  4. I get rid of a pickup load a month…..if all else fails I advertise on craigslist for 20$ a pickup load, but nursing homes, the VA, shelters, school libraries, all will take controlled amounts. I have found that a small price will get you a taker faster than free

  5. Hello, I hear what you’re all saying this is a problem for readers all over the world. We go through our books every few years and sort them out. We live in South West France and every single village, no matter how small has one of those free book box libraries. Our village has a discontinued telephone box which has French, Dutch and English language books, we always leave more than we take. We also have lots of recycling centres, our village does not have garbage collection, we all go to take our garbage there. It’s quite a social event as people meet, greet and chat there. The place is kept immaculate by the lovely people that work there and outside their cabin there are always things that are being recycled, inside there are a couple of bookcases with books. Last summer we had two or 3 cartons of books and we approached a seller at one of the markets here and just wanted to give them to him, he gladly took them and bought us a beer, again an opportunity to socialise. The problem with books is that unless something is very rare there is no hope of selling it, for any kind of money. Just yesterday I checked online about 3 quite historic books that we have, they’re effectively without monetary value, so decided to pass them on to a family member who may be interested.

  6. For me, disposing of a vast quantity of books felt like I was throwing away a huge reflection of who my brother was. He read constantly and often lost track of reality, living more in the books than out here with us.

    Then someone mentioned that I was sharing my brother with all the people who walked away with a piece of his life in the form of books. He will live on and nurture other readers. That makes it worth all the toil and trouble.

  7. The hard fact is that unless you move ever upwards into bigger and more expansive housing, eventually you hit the physical limit of your four walls. You -cannot- buy Mar-A-Lago and turn it into your library. Eventually we all have to downsize, if only to keep enough room for the new books we buy. And yes, the idea of letting the books go to delight new readers is the way to think about it.

  8. I donated a couple of thousand SF and Romance paperbacks to Gold Star Mothers. They pack a book in every care package sent to to the troops.

  9. As Annamarie mentioned above, let me reiterate that if a book is in good shape, there’s a chance that a local independent or assisted living center might be interested. Many have wisely put bookshelves in their hallway walls, and there always seems to be a few people living there who enjoy making sure books get back to their section, even if just Fiction and Nonfiction, and alphabetized.

    Just remember clean, no mildew, covers, and think about weight and print size, too. The more books with decent sized print the better.

    Another possibility occurs to me. I have heard of a writer putting a folding bookcase by her front door and offering trick o’ treaters the option of selecting a book from that shelf as their treat. Most kids took her up on it. Another seasonal variant–small gift bags packed with Mystery, SF, Fantasy, YA, etc. in very good condition, to donate with other gifts to groups doing presents for those who don’t otherwise get gifts? I have bought new books as gifts off Tree Tag lists, but kids getting a handful of books like a Half Price Books baggie might be fun for the readers.